SLAM ONLINE | » The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA

The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA

The misguided obsession with rivalries.

by James B. Peterson and David J. Leonard

Since the announced trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, L.A. has two basketball teams), the NBA punditry has been abuzz, focusing almost exclusively on the trade as it relates to the future of the Lakers. Asking if the Clippers are now better than the Lakers, if Los Angeles is a Clippers city, and otherwise playing up the rivalry, media outlets have turned the Chris Paul trade into a source of conflict between the Clippers and the Lakers. SLAM’s Dave Zirin captured the essence of a media narrative that portrayed the trade as a Clipper victory over the Lakers:

The morning buzz in sports is about the greatest point guard of our generation, Chris Paul, joining the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s a dizzying thought, but the Clippers, the much-mocked baby brother to the mighty Lakers in L.A., now have the city’s better basketball team. This is a day for Frank Stallone, for Billy Carter, for Roger Clinton…. the day that your little bro with the runny nose and the toilet paper stuck to his shoe inherited the earth.

The near obsession of manufacturing a rivalry between these two teams is emblematic of the League’s direction. Concerned about a future where superstars join forces in a few select locations, owners sought to reconfigure the League so that rivalries and teams sell the game to the future fans. A league whose motto was once “Where Amazing Happens” is being transformed to one where the motto might as well be “Where Rivalries Happen.”

The efforts to build-up other franchises—and now play-up the Lakers-Clippers feud—reflect this trend, despite their absurdity. The Clippers didn’t trade for Chris Paul to “punk” the Lakers; they didn’t do it to beat L.A. or become the best team in Los Angeles. They did it to make money and win games (which will lead them to make more money). If anything, it elevates the Clippers into contention for the Western Conference title.

At the core of the media coverage has been the idea that the Clippers will dominate the Lakers because, in the battle for Chris Paul, they won. Imagined as David defeating Goliath, the sports punditry is celebrating the trade as a victory for the “little guy.” Yet, the Chris Paul trade has everything and nothing to do with the Lakers. The Clippers didn’t defeat the Lakers. David Stern and the League’s owners defeated the Lakers, with the Clippers ultimately benefiting. The celebration of the Clippers as victors embodies a fallacious belief in free markets and neoliberal capitalism.

The celebration of the trade, establishment of a binary between the Lakers and Clippers, erasure of David Stern and the League itself, and the overemphasis placed on one team is on full display in Bill Simmons’ post-trade column. Despite previously lamenting David Stern’s decision, Simmons used this column to play up the rivalry. In an article about the Lakers and Clippers, Chris Paul and the future of both franchises, Bill Simmons invoked the following analogy:

Yesterday, the Lakers were hanging out in front of the Staples Center, twiddling their thumbs and coming to the depressing realization that Josh McRoberts was their fourth-best player, when suddenly the Clippers did a drive-by shooting, popped them in the leg and sent them limping away. It wasn’t a fatal blow, but the Lakers definitely lost a ton of blood. And they might spend the next few years walking with a lif

Simmons’ comparison is off by more than a few coordinates. First, if one insists on this analogy, it’s the NBA doing the drive-by and Stern is the trigger man. This simply would not have taken place if the NBA/New Orleans Hornets had not flexed their hegemonic muscle to derail L.A.’s bid to bring Chris Paul into the purple and gold fold. The Lakers’ “limp” was initiated by the move to send Lamar Odom to Dallas for future picks—a move made in anticipation of acquiring Superman, which is now about as likely as the owners exposing their earnings/holdings. Funny how the super-rich understand resource equality when it’s about divvying up resources among the 1 percent.

But the Simmons analogy is off in other ways as well. It reflects an abiding disregard for professional athletes and a pervasive misunderstanding of their success and status in (and out) of black/brown/urban communities. Most sports commentators believe(d) that Plaxico Burress was a fool for carrying a loaded gun with him on a night out in New York City.

Continue reading @ SLAM ONLINE | » The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA.

Megan Greenwell: “To End the NBA Lockout, David Stern Must Shut His Mouth – Business – GOOD


To End the NBA Lockout, David Stern Must Shut His Mouth

Megan Greenwell

Greedy bosses want to cut employees’ pay. The union tries to fight back. So the CEO, a longtime bully to organized labor, pats the workers on their heads with an admonition: You can’t possibly understand such complex negotiations. Let the grownups decide what’s best for you.

If this were Walmart, we’d all be outraged, but not when it’s millionaires fighting against billionaires in the NBA. Yet the paternalism is no less ugly because of the amount of money involved. And it gets uglier when you consider the racial undertones that necessarily lurk in an industry where every owner but one is white and 83 percent of the workers are black [PDF]. Lately, those tensions have been bubbling to the surface—most egregiously in the acidic condescension of Commissioner David Stern.

The lockout has already claimed the first month of NBA games, and the possibility of losing the entire season grows more likely every day. The players and team owners remain miles apart on how to structure the league’s salary cap and revenue-sharing agreement in the age of ballooning player contracts and a weak national economy. There are legitimate disagreements at work here, but that doesn’t justify Stern’s condescension toward the men who are ostensibly his colleagues.

Things started to heat up a week ago, when commentator Bryant Gumbel voiced what many people sympathetic to the players had been thinking: Commissioner David Stern is on a power trip that knows no bounds. Stern has “always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys,” Gumbel said, adding that Stern seems most interested in showing “how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”

It’s important to note, as Deadspin has, that “hired hands” are not the same as slaves, even in the context of a plantation. Gumbel didn’t “play the race card”; he correctly identified the power dynamic that has arisen from Stern and the owners’ fundamental misunderstanding of the value the players bring to a basketball league. Many people have said they refuse to sympathize with players making millions of dollars a year, but they, too, miss the point: Paternalism is paternalism, no matter how much money is involved.

Before the week was out, another prominent sports commentator had drawn fire for his own interpretation of the dynamic between players and owners. In a column largely critical of the owners, Bill Simmons wrote, “I don’t trust the players’ side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it’s true.) The owners’ side can’t say the same; they should be ashamed.” This came on the heels of a piece in which Simmons argued that Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce shouldn’t have been allowed to talk in a meeting because they spent a combined total of three years in college—as if higher education was the main criterion for being able to represent one’s own interests.

Simmons’ labeling of basketball players as stupid—he later defended himself by tweeting that other athletes are equally dumb—has been roundly criticized, most eloquently by David J. Leonard on the New Black Man blog. But what struck me is not that a sportswriter thinks the players he covers have “limited intellectual capital,” but that the NBA commissioner agrees with him.

The same day Simmons wrote about players’ lack of higher education, Stern blamed National Basketball Players’ Association chief Billy Hunter—an attorney, not a basketball player—for misleading union members about the specifics of the owners’ proposals in an interview on The Dan Patrick Show. It was not the first time Stern had tried to bully Hunter and NBA players through the media, but on this occasion, he went further than ever.

Continue reading @ To End the NBA Lockout, David Stern Must Shut His Mouth – Business – GOOD.

Dave Zirin: The Sporting Scene: Economics, Race, and the N.B.A. Lockout : The New Yorker



October 24, 2011

Economics, Race, and the N.B.A. Lockout

Posted by Dave Zirin


Last Tuesday evening, at the end of HBO’s “Real Sports,” Bryant Gumbel referred to David Stern, the commissioner of the N.B.A., as a “plantation overseer.” Coming at a point when the players have been locked out for four months, negotiations are at a standstill, and a substantial part of the season has already been cancelled, the remarks added to a simmering debate.

How can the horrors of the slave trade possibly be compared to a billion-dollar labor negotiation? It’s a fair question, but the metaphor, and the conflict it evokes, is as old as professional sports itself. In the nineteenth century, a white player named John Montgomery Ward was described as leading a “slave revolt” against Major League Baseball. In 1964, Muhammad Ali said that he would “no longer be a slave.” Five years later, the baseball player Curt Flood called himself “a well paid slave” because of his inability to exercise free agency (for which he went to court, and lost both the case and his career). Contemporary athletes such as Larry Johnson, Anthony Prior, Warren Sapp, and Adrian Peterson have used the formulation. It’s been deployed by players to describe a feeling of being condescended to—of being treated as boys instead of men—and of lacking control of their own livelihoods.

In the N.B.A., where every owner but one (Michael Jordan) is white, and eighty-six per cent of the players are black, racial tensions have been unspoken but tangible—as illustrated by a scene two weeks ago. David Stern was sitting across the negotiating table from a constellation of the league’s stars. He then became, per his usual style, openly contemptuous of the players “inability to understand” the financial challenges faced by ownership, according to ESPN’s Ric Bucher. He rolled his eyes. He took deep breaths. He then pointed his finger repeatedly toward the face of the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade. Wade, who is twenty-nine, is one of the most popular faces in the N.B.A. among fans. He interrupted Stern. “You’re not pointing your finger at me,” Wade said, according to Bucher. “I’m not your child.”

Most immediately, Gumbel’s comments looked at David Stern’s management style through a racial lens. That is, in a sense, tragic, since Stern’s résumé has all the trappings of a racial progressive. He’s served on the board of the N.A.A.C.P. He’s led a league that has long had the best record in terms of hiring people of color as coaches and executives. Even in ownership, the N.B.A. is the only major sport in which a person of African descent sits in the owner’s box. But none of that has protected him from the latest accusations. These dynamics didn’t develop overnight, and for that he bears most of the blame.

Over the last decade, Stern has built reservoirs of bad will. After an infamous 2004 brawl between members of the Indiana Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons, Stern said that he had a responsibility to “the ticket-buying fan” to clean up the league. He instituted a dress code. He created a list of verboten establishments where players couldn’t socialize when on the road. He set age limits on when players could enter the league. He met with the Republican strategist Matthew Dowd to discuss how to give the league “red state appeal.” When he had the N.B.A.’s official magazine, “Hoop,” airbrush out Allen Iverson’s tattoos, it was seen as an attack on the “hip-hop generation” of players. Yet Stern did little to reach out or correct the record.

For N.B.A. fans, the most maddening part about this should be that the suspicion of Stern means that no one on the players’ side trusts either him or the financial figures he has been pointing to in negotiations. The league is coming off of the most profitable season in its history, but Stern insists that as many as twenty-three of its thirty teams are losing money. Players don’t believe him, especially as his solution to “the crisis of team profitability” is to take back money that is going to them. Stern refuses to consider a solution that would involve his owners sharing television revenue, as N.F.L. teams do.

Continue reading @ The Sporting Scene: Economics, Race, and the N.B.A. Lockout : The New Yorker.

NewBlackMan: Is the NBA Lockout About Race?



Is the NBA Lockout About Race?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

thought I would write a follow-up to my piece, “Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The ‘limited intellectual capital’ of the NBA’s Players” which has elicited a significant reaction.   It should be clear from the outset, I am not interested in conversations about individuals, intention, or motivation.  To paraphrase the always-brilliant Jay Smooth, the conversations should focus around what has been said, what has been done, and what all of this means in a larger context rather than the individual actors.  The discussion needs to be about how ideology, narrative, and frames operate within these larger discussions. 

One of the common responses to Bill Simmons’ commentary and more specifically the criticism directed at me for reflecting on the racial meaning in those comments has been that Simmons was talking about all NBA players, not just those who are black.  Given the racial demographics of the league and the racial signifiers associated with basketball, it is hard to accept the idea that “NBA player” isn’t a mere code for blackness.  In other words, blackness and basketball become inextricably connected within the dominant imagination, akin to Kathryn Russell-Brown’s idea of the criminal blackman.  Just as the “criminal Blackman” exists as contained identity within the dominant white imagination, the blackballer functions in similar ways. 
The process of both essentializing and bifurcating the black baller is evident in the very distinct ways that the white racial frame conceives of both white and black players, playing upon ideas of intelligence and athleticism.  Whereas the blackballer is imagined as athletic, naturally gifted, and physically superior, white basketball players are celebrated for their intelligence, work ethic, and team orientation.  In Am I Black Enough for You, Todd Boyd identifies a dialectical relationship between racialization and styles of play where whiteness represents a “textbook or formal” style basketball, which operates in opposition “street or vernacular” styles of hooping that are connected to blackness within the collective consciousness.   In both styles of play, notions of intelligence, mental toughness, and mental agility are centrally in play. 
A second and widely circulated denunciation against those critical voices has been our lack of fairness or the double standards of this portion of the discourse.  Whereas I honed in on Simmons’ comments, little has been made about those of Jason Whitlock (Bryant Gumbel has been the at the center of media commentary).  Lets be clear: the comments of Jason Whitlock, irrespective of intent, are worthy of criticism in that his recent commentary plays upon and reinforces dominant narratives and frames about race and blackness.  Looking at his comments, alongside with those of Simmons, further illustrates the ways in which ideologies are circulated, and how commentaries such of these cannot be understood outside of these larger contexts.


A belief in the superiority of white intelligence has been commonplace within American history.  This remains the case today. In one earlier study (during 1990s; see here for another source) about the persistence of racial stereotypes, the author found the following:

More than half the survey respondents rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites. Fifty-seven percent of non-African Americans rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites and thirty percent of African Americans themselves rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites. Sixty-two percent of the entire sample rated African Americans as lazier than whites and more than three out of four survey respondents said that African Americans are more inclined than whites to prefer welfare over work.

In a 2010 study about race and politics, researchers at the University of Washington found that stereotypes about blacks as it relates to intelligence, work ethic, and trust-worthiness remain prominent. Another recent study about race, politics, and stereotypes found that while there has been slight progress in terms of the rejection of longstanding prejudices, they remain constant within the national discourse. 

Continue reading (there is more) @ NewBlackMan: Is the NBA Lockout About Race?.

My newest piece @NewBlackMan: Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players

Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve:

The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Like many sports writers, Bill Simmons has used his columns this week to condemn NBA players, ostensibly blaming them for the cancellation of games. On Friday, he offered the following that put the onus on the players:

Should someone who’s earned over $300 million (including endorsements) and has deferred paychecks coming really be telling guys who have made 1/100th as much as him to fight the fight and stand strong and not care about getting paid? And what are Garnett’s credentials, exactly? During one of the single biggest meetings (last week, on Tuesday), Hunter had Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Garnett (combined years spent in college: three) negotiate directly with Stern in some sort of misguided “Look how resolved we are, you’re not gonna intimidate us!” ploy that backfired so badly that one of their teams’ owners was summoned into the meeting specifically to calm his player down and undo some of the damage. (I’ll let you guess the player. It’s not hard.) And this helped the situation … how? And we thought this was going to work … why?

Congratulations, players — you showed solidarity! You showed you wouldn’t back down! You made things worse, and you wasted a day, but dammit, you didn’t back down! Just make sure you tell that to every team employee who gets fired over these next few weeks, as well as to all the restaurant and bar owners near NBA arenas who are taking a massive financial hit through the holidays. I’m sure they will be proud of you.

Beyond trotting out the “angry black man” trope, which seems to be commonplace within the NBA punditry, and blaming the players for the forthcoming unemployment facing many employees within of the NBA, Simmons hinges his evidence about the incompetence of the players by citing the amount of formal college education of Piece, Bryant and Garnett. In other words, people are losing jobs and fans are losing games because the NBA is at the mercy of its stupid/uneducated black players. And, Simmons wasn’t done here, offering additional clarity about his comments in “Behind the Pipes: Into the Arms of the NHL.” Explaining why he started going to hockey games, Simmons once again returns to the lockout or better said the player caused cancellation of games. In this column (sandwiched in between his general arrogance, dismissive rhetoric, and overly simplistic analysis that presumes sports exists in his theoretical mind and not reality), he writes

Where’s the big-picture leadership here? What’s the right number of franchises? Where should those franchises play? What’s worse, losing three franchises or losing an entire season of basketball? What’s really important here? I don’t trust the players’ side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it’s true.) The owners’ side can’t say the same; they should be ashamed. Same for the agents. And collectively, they should all be mortified that a 16-hour negotiating session, this late in the game, was cause for any celebration or optimism. In my mind, it was more of a cry for help.

Unusually Simmons offer some blame for the owners. As the intelligent ones, they have an obligation to fix the situation. Although they have the intelligence they allow the players, who lack intelligence, to have input in the situation. To Simmons, this is the source of the NBA’s problem.

The racial paternalism here is as striking as are his efforts to resuscitate the bell curve. What we are left with is an argument that the NBA faces a lockout because those who possess the requisite intelligence, who posses the proper fitness, have failed to control their inferior players. Michael Eric Dyson described such rhetoric as central to the history of American white supremacy: “Skepticism about black intelligence and suspicion about black humanity have gone hand in hand throughout the history of this country in feeding the perception that black people don’t quite measure up.” Writing about black male athletes and processes of representation, Ben Carrington invokes Frantz Fanon, who wrote about the incompatibility of blackness and intelligence within the white imagination. Carrington notes Fanon’s exploration of the ways in which blackness was conceptualized and envisioned through white supremacy:

When Fanon gives his white patients a word association test, it is significant to note how often his respondents mention either sports, or prominent black athletes of the period. Fanon informs us that the word, ‘Negro brought forth biology, penis, strong, athletic, potent, boxer, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Senegalese troops, savage, animal, devil, sin’. For Fanon, the black male was the repository of white fears, fantasies and desires, and of all of these constructions, there was one figure above all others that held a central place within the colonial imaginary: ‘There is one expression that through time has become singularly eroticized: the black athlete’.

In reading Simmons, it is clear that the black athlete remains both eroticized and demonized, a repository for white fears, fantasies, and desires, as well as a rhetorical space to articulate white fantasies, desires, and ideas about whiteness. It is no wonder that Simmons recycles the bell curve, explaining the lockout as simply a violation of nature or what happens when the intellectually inferior get to have input in a world where adults should make those important decisions.

Post script:

This is not a question of intent or even individuals, but the ways in which larger narratives and the white racial frame (stereotypes about
intelligence, athleticism) plays out within public discourse.  This is a discussion of the words, the ideology, and the history within them and how
they impact OUR collective discussions.  It is one of stereotypes and the assumptions that are embedded within our language.  It is the ways in which
race and a history of racism imprisons our assumptions and the ways that it impacts our collective imagination.  This is NOT a commentary on Simmons as a person or him at all but the words themselves, which have a larger social context, that carry with them assumptions and history.  Those assumptions, those ideas, and the ideologies guides my discussion and the ways in which those assumptions cloud both the discourse and policy inside and outside of the NBA

via NewBlackMan: Bill Simmons and the Bell Curve: The “limited intellectual capital” of the NBA’s Players.